Food Allergies and Bullies: A troubling combination
by Thomas A. Lupoli, DO
One way that we as physicians stay current with the latest scientific/medical advances is through the methodical review of medical journals—we need to read a lot. Some of the articles are very enlightening and directly translate to enhanced patient care, while others are more esoteric and not immediately clinically applicable. But one article published in the October 2010 issue of the Annals of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology was quite troubling and truly sadden me as a physician caring for food-allergic children and on a personal level as a parent. The article was titled “Bullying among pediatric patients with food allergy” and reported the prevalence of bullying and teasing of food allergic children due to their allergic condition.
Three hundred and fifty-three surveys were completed by food allergic children or their parents. Twenty-four percent of the respondents reported the food-allergic child had been teased or bullied because of his/her food allergy with 80% of these events happening at school. Of those teased, 57% reported acts of physical harassment with the allergen being waved or even thrown at them. There were also reports of intentional contamination of their meals with the allergen.
Physician and parents alike a well aware of the psychological impacts of bullying, but these reported events are particularly troubling given the possible consequences which may arise from forced exposure to a known food allergen.
There is no single solution to prevent or stop school bullying, but a solution can never be reached if we are unaware of the problem in the first place. This article has undoubtedly brought the issue of food allergy centered bullying to the forefront of most Allergists’ consciousness. In an ideal world, children would promptly tell parents of such bullying. But in the real world, we know that many children are reluctant to discuss this with their parents or doctors. So although there seems to be no quick fix for this problem, it is crucial that we look for the warning signs of bullying and ask our food-allergic children about any harassment encountered at school because of their medical condition.
I have come across a nice web-article about this subject written by CNN and one of the authors from the study is interviewed about his thoughts on the matter:
Also, the US Department of Health and Human Services has a useful website about bullying prevention/intervention resources: